HOUSTON (CN) – Droves of Houston residents turned out at a downtown convention center Tuesday, with truck and car loads of supplies for the more than 9,000 Tropical Storm Harvey evacuees inside.
Ever Flores, 33, stood against a folding wooden table backed up against the George R. Brown Convention Center wall on Tuesday, chain-smoking cigarettes as people walked past holding plastic bags stuffed with blankets and clothes or rolling suitcases and carrying small dogs.
Frazzled families huddled together, trying to get their bearings, as volunteers in rain slickers directed traffic bearing down on the center in a steady rain.
Two long lines of cars and trucks loaded with supplies inched past heading for the drop-off area at the back of the center.
Houston police overseeing the scene from a storefront precinct in the side of the building told people carrying supplies on foot that the pedestrian drop-off zone was in the front of the building, and suggested they give their loads to the drivers.
A man gave a plastic bag ripping through with several packs of wet wipes to a woman in a small hatchback, its backseat laden with large pillows.
Flores said he and his brothers arrived at the George R. Brown Convention Center at 6 a.m. Tuesday. An African-American man with blood shot eyes wearing a baseball cap approached him and mumbled a question, “Have you seen anybody walking around here with my identification? It’s my White House credentials.”
Flores shook his head and gave the man a cigarette before lighting up another of his own.
“I’ve seen a lot of people talking to themselves and people coming in with injuries. We had a few we had to get medical support for. One lady was bleeding from her head,” he said.
He said he was taking a break because his volunteer brigade got swamped this morning and he was tasked with separating pillows, towels and clothes brought in by a huge crowd of people who overran the drop-off point as police looked on.
Flores, a graduate student, said his southwest Houston neighborhood was flooded by Brays Bayou and his elderly neighbors had been evacuated by boat because the water had reached chest level.
He smiled and seemed in good spirits, not dwelling on the flood damage to his car and house that needs its leaky roof repaired, or the families of evacuees inside the center.
“Other people got it worse,” he said. “It was sad seeing all those kids. It was heartbreaking.”
An elderly black woman stood next to her large plastic bag filled with toilet paper, adult diapers and clothes against the sliding glass doors of a closed hotel across from the convention center, looking out on a scene of ambulances and Army trucks and a line of Houston residents waiting to get inside to help out that stretched around the block.
She intermittently left her shelter to peer around a street corner at cars coming around the corner.
“I’ve been out here for two days. I’m waiting for my son to pick me up,” she said.
She said her and her neighbors in the Fifth Ward, a predominantly African-American neighborhood just minutes northeast of downtown, had been evacuated in a school bus.
“Everybody on the school bus with me, they done gone home. I need to be there too. The sun’s about to come out,” she said.
Pressed for her name by a reporter, her patience wore out.
“I don’t feel like answering all those questions. My back hurts, my leg hurts and I don’t feel good,” she said.
Restaurants and stores in downtown and near west Houston opened their doors Tuesday and a sprinkling of health-conscience locals were out jogging in their rain slickers, undoubtedly needing to wear off some nervous energy that built up over the last three days when flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey confined most people to their homes.
But the slow-moving devastation from the storm is still playing out in northwest Houston near two reservoirs that catch water in the upper watershed of Houston’s Buffalo Bayou, which flows through downtown to the Houston Ship Channel.
Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist Jeff Lindner said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon the Addicks reservoir had toppled its northern spillway for the first time, and was heading east towards Beltway 8, an 88-mile toll road that rings Harris County.
“Some places may see street flooding, other places may see structure flooding,” he said. “This isn’t going to happen fast. This is a slow rise. So we’re telling people to pay attention to water levels and be prepared to leave.”
Lindner said he didn’t know how the flooding would interact with the region’s drainage system, but more than 3,000 homes in the subdivisions around the reservoirs have flooded.
In Brazoria County, just south of Harris County, officials on Tuesday ordered all residents living west of Highway 288, a major highway into Houston, and South of Highway 6 to evacuate to get out of the path of flooding from a breached levee.
The county tweeted Tuesday morning that the levee at Columbia Lakes has been breached. The message said, “GET OUT NOW!!”
As Houstonians continued to flee their flooded homes Tuesday, evacuees from the Texas gulf towns where Harvey made landfall wondered when they would be able to return home — and what they might find when they get back.
Denise Christopherson, who retired to Port Aransas four years ago and evacuated the island town near Corpus Christi on Thursday, said the last few days have been “surreal.”
Christopherson said that she decided to leave Port Aransas Thursday before the mandatory evacuation order when she saw the news about Harvey’s strength.
“We’re on the first floor there, and thinking that things are going to flood no matter what,” she said.
She said she learned from a friend whose home was destroyed in Katrina that breakable valuables like china could be stored and kept safely in a locked dishwasher.
Christopherson spent about two hours sorting her condominium and packing important papers — and her precious earring collection — before heading out of town with her husband, his 92-year-old father, a disabled friend, and her dog, Garbo.
They hunkered down in Gonzales, Texas, about an hour and a half north of Port Aransas, in a La Quinta Inn that she says felt like a “three-story Noah’s Ark.”
“I saw a lady check in with six cats,” she said.
The stress of the evacuation led her to have an emotional breakdown in a Walmart in Gonzalez after a fight with a cashier, but she said she’s been overwhelmed by the generosity of family, friends and even strangers that have lent her and other evacuees a helping hand.
Port Aransas officials began to let residents return Tuesday, but the town has spotty cellphone service, major gas leaks and no working utilities.
Christopherson said she’s hopeful that her first-floor condominium, and a second-floor unit she owns in another waterfront complex, are still standing, but has no idea of the extent of any damage to the properties.
She believes the community will band together to rebuild as quickly as they can and said she plans to return as soon as utilities are restored.
“That place is so sweet and it’s such a little village,” Christopherson said. “If you say ‘I need help at my house,’ a neighbor will be there in 10 minutes.”